Fonda…the bad guy…

fondathon-2-text1Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), one of my favourite Westerns. And the perfect entry to focus on Henry Fonda for The Fondathon, hosted by Sat in your Lap.

Fonda is Frank. Totally ruthless. What more proof do you need when his “introductory” scene is one of gunning down a whole family…even the little boy frozen to the spot who you’d hope would be saved? But no…not Frank.

He’s got his orders. The family that he’s just disposed of…well, the land is in prime railway territory and business is business. Railroad baron business. Problem is…there is a young widow around. And she’s on her way to the exact piece of land. The killings are pinned on outlaw Cheyenne (Jason Robards) who befriends widow Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale). Together with Harmonica (Charles Bronson), he sets out to find the real killers. Of course, there’s more to this than meets the eye…Harmonica has his own motive…

Henry Fonda is just excellent. He has this perfectly calm coldness to him. Accentuated by the eyes. Especially in the close-ups. And there are plenty of those. Sergio Leone presents us with such wonderful visuals in this one. In fact, I believe those eyes are what the director really wanted to stand out. To be recognisable. As Fonda. From what I’ve read, Fonda arrived on set with a fake moustache and brown contact lenses…and that didn’t fly with Leone.

HenryFonda

“People scare better when they’re dyin'”…what a ruthless character. And once again…he’s so casual around the unexpected business events. Things he didn’t plan on. And Fonda is absolutely, totally convincing. The real, nasty bad guy.

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What I hadn’t realised until now (my lack of Henry Fonda knowledge) was that this role didn’t fit in with what he was typically cast as. He was always the good guy. And here’s something interesting I found on IMDB: Henry Fonda originally turned down the role of Frank. Director Sergio Leone flew to the United States and met with Fonda, who asked why he was wanted for the film. Leone replied, “Picture this: the camera shows a gunman from the waist down pulling his gun and shooting a running child. The camera pans up to the gunman’s face and…it’s Henry Fonda” (until then, with one exception, Fonda had only been cast in “good guy” roles. Leone wanted the audience to be shocked).

But, not knowing this in the first place, I was still shocked at how ruthless a man can be. Fonda or not. I guess…at the end of the day, the actor totally managed to convince me . What sheer acting brilliance.

So, this being my first Fonda film, to me, he’ll always be the bad guy stereotype and I’ve yet to discover him as the nice guy. I’m sure I’ll be shocked…

For my other thoughts on this one…head on over here…here.

Now…head on over to Sat in your Lap for the other Fondathon entries here.

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9 comments

  1. Like you this was one of the first Fonda films I watched and he’s suitably ruthless, a compete contrast to the characters he played in his younger days. This film does have a great cast, you can’t beat Bronson in his heyday as Harmonica and Claudia Cardinale… be still my heart.
    Whenever I watch Once Upon a Time in the West I’m always taken by the symbolic moment when Cheyenne (Jason Robards) draws his last breath just as you hear the train entering Sweetwater. The end of the old west and the start of the new.
    This film also has a memorable great opening title sequence too. It must be the longest I’ve ever seen. I read somewhere that Leone wanted Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach to play the three gunslingers who wait for Bronson’s train at the start of the film. Imagine that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “People scare better when they’re dyin’” – that’s one of the great lines of all-time. It took me a long time to get my brain around those words coming out of the mouth of Mister Roberts.

    Liked by 1 person

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